Stem cell transplantation is most likely to be successful if there is a close genetic match between donor and patient, such as a parent, child or close relative.
The decision to become a stem cell donor is a personal one you will make with your family and the physicians at the Stem Cell Transplant Program. We encourage you to learn as much as possible about this process from our staff and from your own research before you make this important decision.
Allogeneic Donation Steps
- Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) Testing: A blood test used to determine a close genetic match.
- Donor evaluation and consent: The potential donor receives a complete medical evaluation, including physical exam, electrocardiogram (EKG), chest x-ray, and blood tests. Donors are asked to sign a consent form after being told about the harvest process, possible risks and benefits.
- Blood Center Visit: The donor visits Northwestern Memorial's Blood Center to learn about the procedure and review preparation instructions.
The donor is given injections of medication to stimulate the stem cells in the blood marrow to move into the circulating blood system. Side effects from the medication may include fever, headache, bone pain and nausea.
On the first day of harvest, a catheter is placed in the donor’s chest to allow the blood to circulate through the cell separator easily.
The stem cells are collected by passing the donor’s blood through an automated stem cell separator, a process called apheresis. Short-term side effects from the apheresis may include tingling in the mouth, fingers and toes, chills and dizziness. Donation is complete when an adequate supply of stem cells have been harvested, usually within 3 to 5 days. Most patients describe the harvest as painless. The insertion of the catheter is described as the most uncomfortable part of the process.
In many situations, the patient’s insurance will cover the donor’s medical expenses. If insurance coverage is not available, our financial counselor will work with you and the patient to identify other sources to cover the costs. Some expenses, in particular travel may not be covered, but some reduced cost options may be available through Northwestern Memorial.